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In this lesson, you’ll learn more about the work of Ulric Neisser and the limitations of human information processing with phenomena like inattentional blindness and flashbulb memory. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Ulric Neisser

Ulric Neisser was born in 1928 and became known as the ‘father of cognitive psychology.’ To be clear about cognitive psychology, it is the study of the mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge. In his youth, he was affiliated with one of the founders of cognitive psychology, George Miller, at Harvard and MIT.

He went on to start his first graduate degree at Swarthmore University. He earned his doctorate at Harvard and then taught at Emory and Brandise Universities. Later he would become a well-known faculty member at Cornell University. In 1967, his book Cognitive Psychology was published, which was what gained him the title of the ‘father of cognitive psychology.’ Neisser died in 2012, but not before carrying out a great deal of significant research in cognitive psychology, the self, and intelligence. The following sections of this lesson will describe his best-known work.

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Attention and Perception

One of the main topics in cognitive psychology is attention and perception.

This approach to psychology also compares the way the brain processes information to the way a computer works in which information must first be encoded, then stored into memory, and then able to be retrieved on demand.Attention and perception are required for encoding information, and Neisser and his colleagues noticed that the brain does not encode or pay attention to everything it is exposed to. In fact, it was found that the brain typically only concentrates on a small piece of what is going on around it and ignores the rest, which has been termed inattentional blindness.In the research of Neisser and his colleagues, they showed experiment participants a video of a group of people passing a basketball. Some of the people in the video were wearing white shirts and some were wearing black shirts. The participants were asked to keep track of every time a white-shirted player passed the ball. While participants were very good at this task, they were so engrossed in it that they completely missed a woman walking across the screen carrying an umbrella in the middle of the basketball passing.

This was a classic experiment that showed how people who put their attention on one task at a time can be blind to other stimuli.

Memory

Neisser’s most recognized research involves his research in memory. He specialized in a type of memory known as flashbulb memory. Flashbulb memories are extremely vivid memories of emotionally charged events, such as a first kiss or a car accident.

Although these are more personal examples, a more widely relatable example is everyone’s vivid memory of where they were and what they were doing when they discovered the news of the September 11th terror attacks on the World Trade Center.Due to the highly emotional nature of flashbulb memories, it was often believed that they were more accurate than normal memories, which have been found to be riddled with errors. Neisser’s research, however, has shown that flashbulb memories are just as prone to error and misremembering as other types of memory. Specifically, the degree of accuracy in flashbulb memories will decrease as one’s personal involvement with them decreases.In his experiment, He tested people about their memories of the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. Those who experienced the event were able to match their description a year later much more accurately than people who had simply heard about the earthquake. According to Neisser’s research, the more personally involved you are, the better the flashbulb memory.

Lesson Summary

Ulric Neisser was the first to write a book about cognitive psychology and was considered by some to be the ‘father of cognitive psychology.’ Neisser’s research included topics such as memory, attention, the self, and intelligence.His most famous research involves flashbulb memories and inattentional blindness. Neisser found that flashbulb memories are more accurate when people are directly experiencing an event rather than just hearing about it or seeing it on the news. His research with attention revealed the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, an inability to notice your surroundings when focused on a particular stimulus.

This was by showing the failure of participants to notice a woman carrying an umbrella walking past a group of people passing a basketball. His work spawned much more advanced studies on memory and attention in later years.

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